The sands of time keep softly falling and we are now several months out from when we first found out about my sister-in-law Malena. For those not following her story, she is married to my husband's brother Chucho. They live in Mexico and she has six children, and numerous grandchildren. She was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor, a very large one. She is only 48 years old. We found out about her condition, or details of it, right at Christmas. The condition she was in was not made known to us the way we would've liked it. I wanted the nitty, gritty details and I wanted them now. It was slow in coming, as is the very measured way in which Latinos give information (if they do at all), and when we finally found out how bad it really was we were simply floored. It took my breath away.
They sent us pictures of a Malena that I didn't recognize. I like to say that I'm a robust, zaftig woman as was Malena. The pictures I received from her girls of her appearance now was a very slim woman - one that did not look at all like the Malena I had known for twenty-five years. Protruding from her stomach was the tumor, and I had to look away. It turns out she had not felt well for a year or more, brushing it aside because in Mexico if you don't have money, you don't get care.
My eldest daughter said, "Mom, we need to help them. We need to do something." She needed surgery, to explore and to find out exactly what needed to be done. The day after Christmas she set up a crowd-funding page for Malena and off it went. By the end of the set time of 2-3 weeks, we had raised nearly $4000 given online and in person. My husband and I wept with the generosity that had been shown. People didn't know her, yet they gave.
We sent the money to them, every penny, nearly a week later. Within two weeks or so, she was heading to her surgery that had been postponed nearly three times. We waited to hear, texted with the girls, and prayed. After a long day of waiting, and nearly several more of getting the exact details, we found out what we had hoped wasn't true. The tumor was too large to remove as she had been bleeding out on the table. The cancer had spread and was wrapped around nearly every vital organ in the stomach and mid-region of her body. They closed her up and sent her home to recover. We questioned them about chemotherapy and had found out that the doctors had already talked to her about it. Too costly to afford, and for Malena, something she didn't want.
She is now at home, having healed from the surgery. She goes about her days, content in the knowledge that they did what they could. She says she is ready and wants nothing like chemo to take the joy out of the final stages of her life. I text her when I can, telling her how much I love her. Her kids are ever close to her side, as is Chucho - with whom she's been with for over thirty years now. My husband mourns for him and the loss he will suffer in losing his best friend. I am thoughtful and pensive thinking about how Malena befriended me when I was a naive American girl in a foreign country. No language but Spanish to learn, and how kind she was in her ways and with the foods she always prepared for us. I want to sit in her kitchen one more time and eat homemade quesadillas gently stuffed with mushrooms and herbs, topped off with queso de Oaxaca. I want to taste the burn of the salsa rojo that melds with the flavors of the quesadilla and satisfies my hunger not just for genuine Mexican food, but for the friendship it brings.
I want to see her one more time, and if God and favor provide this may happen yet. I want to travel those bumpy, pothole-filled side streets to her house and gather her in my arms. We will see. For now I am content in knowing this past week they were able to travel the several hours it takes to go to the coast of Veracruz. She was able to spend a few sun-filled days basking and enjoying life one minute at a time with her husband and youngest daughter, who is 12, at her side.
It is about each minute, isn't it?
** A hearty thank you to each and every soul who donated money to Malena's cause. She had no idea we were doing it and was floored that anyone who didn't know her would care enough to give. With your help she was able to get the surgery, find answers, and rest easy in the days God is giving her. Thank you, my friends. Your generosity will not be forgotten.